Spoiler alert, but at the end of the Time of the Doctor Matt Smith actually regenerates into Peter Capaldi. I know, they kept that one quiet.
It was a well acted, heart destroying scene that managed to draw on elements from The 11th Doctor’s entire run but never felt drawn out or overplayed in a way that David Tennant’s final moments were (controversial).
It got me thinking about The Doctor’s other regeneration scenes, since thanks to Day of the Doctor, we’ve now got ’em all. There have been some dodgy ones, and some pretty disappointing ones. As you may have guessed from the title though, these are what I reckon are his best ones.
Peter Davison to Colin Baker (Caves of Androzani)
Okay, so it may have heralded in the beginning of Doctor Who’s decline into not very goodness (through no fault of Colin Baker) but this is a strong, emotional scene that tops off one of classic Who’s best stories.
While it has it’s problems, such as Davison’s great death bed acting being somewhat overshadowed by Nicola Byrant’s cleavage (or is that a problem? Depends who you ask) or the kind of cheesy spectral return of his past companions (God, who does that these days?), Davison and Byrant still deliver an incredibly strong, quite unsettling scene.
It gets even better when you realise that The Doctor was actually holding off his regeneration for pretty much the entire story, just so he could get shit done. Say what you will about The 5th Doctor, but he was a stone cold badass.
William Hartnell to Patrick Troughton (The Tenth Planet)
Granted, The Doctor doesn’t bow out for the most heroic of reasons (old age) but the first regeneration of the series deserves a spot on this list because the ingenious idea of The Doctor being able to change his face has ensured that Doctor Who can still be going strong fifty years on.
It’s done remarkably well for the time too, with Hartnell glowing a milky white and seamlessly becoming Troughton. You seriously barely notice it happen. You’ve got to wonder what the hell viewers thought was going on at the time.
Christopher Eccleston to David Tennant (The Parting of the Ways)
The first regeneration of New Who must have been as much of a shock to younger viewers as The Tenth Planet was for everyone else.
Eccleston delivers a brilliant speech while Rose looks on, absolutely terrified. Here, regeneration is clearly quite sad, but still cause for optimism, as it should be since no one is actually dying.
And no longer does The Doctor konk out on the floor in a slightly feeble manner. For the first time, he throws his arms up and explodes with energy, which is much, much cooler (and also allows for Matt Smith to destroy an entire fleet of Daleks).
Paul McGann to John Hurt (Night of The Doctor)
YES. Just because we thought we’d never see the day, this regeneration gets a place on the list. What does this regeneration scene get done?
Well, it lets McGann showcase his fantastic range as The Doctor (rage, acceptance, flippancy), it gives us more time with PAUL MCGAN AS THE DOCTOR and perhaps most importantly of all, it makes his Big Finish audio adventures unarguably canon.
Paul McGann though guys, amiright?
Jon Pertwee to Tom Baker (Planet of the Spiders)
So even though the regeneration effect itself is a little rubbish, and the hovering monk man of exposition land always terrified me on a personal level, this scene has Lis Sladen and Jon Pertwee absolutely acting their hearts out (while The Brigadier watches on vaguely bored by the proceedings).
Fun fact; this is the first time the process is actually called Regeneration. There, we’ve all learnt something and I can’t think of anything else to say.
50 years ago, William Hartnell, Verity Lambert, Sydney Newman and others perhaps unknowingly unleashed so much more than just a television program. They let loose a cultural icon, a legend, a modern fairy tale that has spanned decades and captured the hearts and minds of many generations of fans.
Day of the Doctor is a piece of television that has been fifty years in the making, make no mistake. Possibly the most anticipated and hyped piece of television ever, the all important question is, did it deliver?
Thankfully, God yes. Day of the Doctor was thrilling, funny, heartbreaking, scary and exciting. It was nostalgic without dwelling on the past and forward thinking without alienating the long time fans. If anyone else could come up with a better story for the 50th, I’d genuinely like to see it.
The story was a fairly typical Steven Moffat timey wimey affair. The three Doctors all had their own separate adventures which tied in together beautifully.
Matt Smith’s started with a fantastic reference to Totters Lane and Coal Hill, two key locations in Who lore and quickly delved into an adventure with mysterious paintings and UNIT. It was only right to reference such an important group in the 50th and The Brigadiers daughter afforded the next best thing to the great Nick Courtney himself. She’s also a fantastic character in her own right, which helps.
David Tennant’s return was a thing of absolute joy as we finally saw what happened with Queen Liz and got a mini adventure with The Zygons (who looked fantastic). Seeing Ten interact with Eleven was hilarious, as The Tenth Doctor, with all his swagger looks disdainfully at the flappy awkward clumsiness of The Eleventh.
And then there’s John Hurt, who finishes off the trinity of Doctors for this episode. His war Doctor was played artfully, a vague menace lurking underneath those tired eyes and a weariness, yet still with that mad Doctor spark. Finally seeing The Time War playing out was a dream. Daleks killing and exploding all over the shop in such excess and on such scale was brilliant.
Throwing Hurt into the mix with Tennant and Smith made for some fantastic scenes. Hurt obviously representing the old guard as he questioned much of what the two young Doctors did. Hurt disgustedly asking, “Timey Wimey?” to Tennant’s sly “I don’t know where he got that from” was a particular highlight.
Then we had the game changing ending, a fanboy baiting sequence in which twelve (or was it thirteen?) TARDISes blitzed through a Dalek fleet to save Gallifrey. See? The classic Doctors were in there after all (kind of). And Gallifrey falls no more? A brilliant move. Seeing the Doctor finally find a way to move on with the whole Last of the Time lords schtick is refreshing and should make for an interesting ark in the next series.
Finally, it would be remiss of me to end this review without mentioning (but not in detail) two masterfully subtle cameo appearances. One of which looks firmly and excitingly to the future while the other was a beautifully done nod to the past.
After 50 years, The Doctor has finally stopped running and is genuinely out there to find something. Day of the Doctor was nothing short of a perfectly balanced, thrilling adventure that seamlessly sets up the future of the show while paying tribute to the past. Here’s to another 50.